I have a nearly five-year-old daughter, and she is of the inquisitive type. A day with her is a nonstop barrage of questions followed by her own personal extrapolations based on the answers to the questions. I wouldn't call her extrapolations wrong, but rather fanciful, and if not wholly accurate they are at the very least based on the facts available to her.
Others would say that she has a good imagination and I certainly wouldn't contradict them. She has a great imagination (okay, as her father I'm biased, but I'd still argue that she does) and a desire to learn about the world.
Begun in 2008 by Brian Backus, Kidlandia is a website that allows kids (with parental oversight) to create worlds based on characters new and old. On the Kidlandia website one can make wall hangings, prints, door hangars, height charts, and gallery wrapped canvases (amongst other things), and personalize nearly all of it.
On the website you choose a character/theme (Kidlandia Kreechurs, Disney characters, Dora, VeggieTales, SpongeBob, and several others in the future) then get a huge number of options involving the plethora of products (the aforementioned canvases, hangings, and more) you can make using the characters. You can also work the other way, choosing the type of piece you want to create and then selecting the characters you want on it.
A basic example of this is the work we created on the right (click for a larger view). It is a Kidlandia Kreechur themed piece done on their "Pirate Hideaway" map. We spent hours customizing it and the final result is better than anything we could have hoped for.
It is with this customization that the real fun—and the use of imagination—begins. Once you have your basic character and piece set, you can use the website's wizard to create names for rivers, oceans, mountains, islands, etc. You can also opt to individually change all the names manually. What you then end up with is a beautiful, almost completely personalized for—and by—your child, piece of art. But, the project can extend well beyond just names and objects on the map. You can actually click on the characters and create stories about them on the site.
Not everything is adjustable, if you look at the paragraph description on the example, that remains constant as does the basic layout of the map (or whichever piece) you've chosen. The creatures are moveable as are the different other objects placed over the map (boats, forts, castles, creatures, etc.).
Part of the brilliance of the site is that it can be a highly involved, hugely intricate endeavor, but it doesn't have to be that time consuming either. As stated, we spent hours creating, adjusting, modifying, and scripting a single piece, but with the template wizard you can just give the site the names of your family members and places you like and have it all done for you.
What also takes some time is the actual production of your piece of art. The final piece of three that was ordered on April 8 arrived on April 22 (the first two came earlier in the same week).
Time aside, the result is absolutely spectacular. We created a height chart, gallery wrapped canvas, and a canvas scroll and were not merely impressed but what arrived on our doorstep, but instantly and completely in love with it. The quality of what you're getting for your money on the Kidlandia site is fantastic and the items make an absolutely perfect addition to any child's room. There is no corner cut with the final product; it is a professionally created, personalized piece which not only will your child love, but which very well may make you the envy of the other kids in your neighborhood.
Due to how the site is organized and the creation process works, there seems to be little that one could do which would result in a "bad" piece showing up on your doorstep. All the items come with a good sprinkling of people, animals, and things already on them without being either overwhelmingly fully or desolate. More can be added and items can be subtracted as well, but it would take a deliberate effort on one's part to make a piece which has things arranged poorly enough to look disappointing.
For those who would rather not go online to create their project and who happen to live in or near New York City, Kidlandia now also has a boutique within FAO Schwarz. While the boutique doesn't have the full range of products that the website does, you can purchase a 24x18 print there, you can take your print home that very day (and there are special FAO only items available at the boutique).
What Kidlandia is really offering is a way for children to both explore within their own imagination and, particularly when used on the website, a way for them to also figure out more about the world at large in which we live (hey, that stuff we designed on the computer here at home is connected to something larger out there somewhere).
Whether you end up creating a family tree (which didn't feel quite as in depth as we would have liked), play with a real map, or create something completely unique and different, the customization options are huge and there is a ton to explore. If your child and your neighbor's one both end up using the same basic template you're still virtually certain to get a final result which is noticeably different.
So few things in this world offer one the opportunity to be creative, have fun, and end up with a result which you're virtually guaranteed to love. Kidlandia is one of those things and a website not to be missed.
Article first published as Product and Website Review: Kidlandia on Blogcritics.